Annie's Mailbox: Week of November 16

Annie's Mailbox

 Dear Annie:

I am inclined to ask for an outside opinion after spending time with my grandkids at their home last night and witnessing a lot of violent behavior with which they got away. It was an emotional roller coaster. I saw the eldest sibling behaving roughly with his younger siblings. The parents threatened to take away a favorite toy as punishment but then never followed through, nor did they use timeout, which I still think is smart for calming down.

As a grandparent, I was glad to see the sisters, ages 3 and 4, learning to fight back against their elder brother, who is 7, when he was rough with them. But he’s still stronger, and there was still a lot of crying. Meanwhile, the 1-year-old boy is watching it all.

My daughter-in-law is a stay-at-home mom. My son participates with the discipline, but he mostly yells at them. The kids laugh it off, and the eldest boy even hits the parents or pounces on them when he feels like it. And again, nothing is done to punish him. The kids are simply told to hug and say they’re sorry. This has been going on for at least three years.

When I spend time with the kids individually, they are sweet and very smart. I’m sure they like the calm visit with me. What will happen with them in the future? — Worried Grandma

Dear Worried Grandma:

You are correct to be concerned. Empty threats help no one. They instill temporary fear in children that they will get something taken away, and when there is no follow-through on the threats, it teaches the children that your word is not worth paying attention to. In the end, they will continue not to listen to or respect your son and daughter-in-law. They need firm guidelines about not hitting, strict enforcement and lots of love.

Dear Annie:

I am a veterinarian, and I have read your column since its inception. I usually agree with your advice. However, I must object to the advice you gave to the owners of the cat who got a Great Pyrenees. They believe that the dog is demanding an inordinate amount of their attention, possibly out of jealousy. Though your reply was well-intended, your recommendations may not have been helpful and could even be dangerous. Dogs and cats have their own methods of communication, with facial expressions and body language that most people aren’t trained or attuned enough to understand. They have evolved to respond to these cues in certain ways. Trying to project human emotions, motivations or patterns of behavior onto dogs or cats is largely unsuccessful and can sometimes create even more unwanted behavior.

This couple would benefit from having a professional dog trainer come to their house, observe the social hierarchy that exists and counsel them on the best way to safely modify this dog’s behavior. Thank you for your ongoing efforts to help people with their issues. I hope this information is beneficial. — Michigan Veterinarian

Dear Michigan Vet:

Thank you for your expertise. You make a great point about the potential pitfalls of projecting human emotion onto animal behavior. I’ve forwarded your letter to the owner of the Great Pyrenees, and I’m printing it here for the benefit of all readers trying to keep the peace among animals in their homes.

Dear Annie:

My brother-in-law, “Tom,” is 70 years old and a totally disabled Navy veteran. He has been duped by a con man, “Mack.”

Mack lived upstairs from Tom in an apartment building. Mack started a friendship with Tom, doing errands for him and otherwise helping him. Tom trusted Mack with his debit card, and Mack would go to the grocery for him and pay some of Tom’s bills.

Well, a year and a half later, we found out that Mack had robbed Tom of all his savings, leaving him penniless. In that time, Mack had moved in to another apartment complex. Tom was paying for Mack’s rent, gas, groceries, utilities, dates at restaurants and big TV set, because Mack would take large sums of cash out of Tom’s account. What do we do? The problem is that Tom would agree he gave Mack the debit card and knew about paying some of Mack’s bills. Tom is softhearted and really not thinking clearly. We can’t afford a lawyer. My husband is 15 years older than Tom and not well, either.

We closed Tom’s account and opened another one, putting cash in it for him and trying to pay down some of his bills to keep him from losing utilities. We are sick and frustrated about this. Should we go to the police if Tom won’t cooperate? He doesn’t understand what has happened and may deny what “friend Mack” has done to him. — Frustrated Family in Florida

Dear Frustrated Family:

Tom’s soft heart has landed him in a tough situation. Because Tom knowingly has been giving Mack access to his accounts, your options for recourse are limited. Additionally, it doesn’t even sound as if he’s too interested in recourse. If he’s not of sound mind, you might be able to make a case that Mack is exploiting him and this is a form of elder abuse. Call Adult Protective Services (800-962-2873 in Florida) for guidance.

Dear Annie:

I think you were so right to tell 13-year-old “Greg” that he should hand the issue of dealing with his mean biological father over to his parents. I’d like to add that Greg should consider handing his letter to his good stepfather, “Derek.” I can pretty well guarantee that Derek would put that letter in his billfold and pull it out and reread it so many times that it would become ragged and illegible, which wouldn’t matter because he’d have memorized it by then. The best people don’t realize how good they are, which is why it’s so important to tell them. And speaking of that, Greg needs to hear what a good kid he is, too. His letter is full of empathy and intelligence and conscientiousness. And if the friend helped write it, gold stars for the friend but also for Greg, because good people have good friends and recognize good advice. — I’d Love to Be His Grandma

Dear Grandma:

I love your letter. I am printing it as a reminder to tell the good people in our lives just how much we appreciate them.

Dear Annie:

I recently attended a couple of weddings that left me baffled.

The custom of most weddings in the Midwest is for the wedding couple and their wedding party to hire a limo, party bus or some other method of transportation to take the whole group around to various bars after the wedding ceremony and before the reception, usually held at another establishment. The guests are free to go to the reception site, and usually some type of refreshment is offered.

At one particular wedding, the couple did not even greet their guests at the back of the church after the ceremony. They secluded themselves in another room and left their parents to greet and thank the guests for coming, and then they made their exit from the church with the usual fanfare and entered the party bus. It was more than two hours before they made an entrance at the reception. Meanwhile, the guests were left waiting for the couple to arrive before they were offered the reception meal. Some guests were elderly or had traveled a long distance and wanted to go home after the reception, so after two hours, they left without waiting for the couple.

Since another recent wedding, the bride has been selling unwanted wedding/shower gifts on the Facebook Marketplace forum. Are we wrong to feel that our gifts were not appreciated? Perhaps this is easier than returning unwanted items to the store, or maybe the couple only really wanted money, but with far-reaching social media, I am sure some guests are seeing their gifts being sold within a month of the wedding and before the thank-you cards are even sent.

I realize that the happy couple would like to celebrate with their friends, but shouldn’t consideration for their guests come first? At least make an appearance early at the reception so that the guests can enjoy that time, as well. And for goodness’ sake, have the grace to appreciate the time and effort guests have put into their gifts. — Wedding Blues

Dear Wedding Blues:

Selling wedding gifts on social media is tacky, plain and simple. I’d never heard of that before, and I hope to never hear of it again. Newlyweds, if you don’t want a gift, just return it.

As for the hourslong wait for the couple to make their entrance at the reception, I’ve noticed this trend. I believe it’s because photographers can take more photos now than ever, and photo shoots are elaborate, with multiple locations and every possible combination of wedding party members. I encourage anyone planning a wedding to take guests’ needs into account. If there is going to be significant lag between the ceremony and the reception, make sure guests have somewhere to socialize and something to eat.

Dear Annie:

This is in response to “Fume-Free,” who is concerned about her mother-in-law’s smoking around her new baby. My granddaughter is 13 years old. Fourteen years ago, when she was conceived, my son and daughter-in-law told my husband in no uncertain terms that the baby would not be entering our house if he continued to smoke. I told my husband that if that were the case, I would have to be living elsewhere. When my daughter-in-law was about seven months pregnant, he smoked his last pack of cigarettes.

Recently, he had a nine-hour operation in which his lung collapsed. The doctor told him that if he had still been a smoker, he would not have made it. He said the next day that he guessed Kayla had saved his life. So, “Fume-Free,” be stern, and make it about not only the baby but also future health issues. — Been There and Done That

Dear Been There:

I am so glad your husband is OK. It sounds as if Kayla was a blessing in more ways than one.

Dear Annie:

Recent revelations regarding sexual harassment have prompted me to examine some of my own behavior and actions as they relate to women.

I have never raped or knowingly sexually harassed any woman. I have always held women in high regard and tried to treat them with respect and decency. However, I have said some things and acted in certain ways that may have been questionable, though they have been combined with both humor and sincerity. I would like you and your readers to comment on them.

I have, on many occasions, told women in my workplace that they look attractive, most often citing their outfit. On other occasions, I have done the same with women I don’t know. But I have always prefaced my remarks with a qualifying statement, such as “I hope you won’t be offended or take this the wrong way,” and then added, “But I would like to say how lovely you look.”

Also, on other occasions, when I have discerned that they are not offended, I have added in a very clearly humorous voice, “Are you married?” If the answer is “no,” I might say, “If you are not busy this weekend, then can we elope!”

If the answer is “yes,” I might smilingly and humorously ask, “Well, do you fool around?” Usually, it provokes a laugh and smile.

Now, with the emergence of “Me Too” and all of the awakening consciousness of women — which I wholeheartedly support — I am wondering whether my remarks have been inappropriate or may be interpreted as a form of unwanted sexual advance. I want to do the right thing. Comments from you and/or your readers would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. — A Woman Lover

Dear Woman Lover:

Yes, these comments probably make the women you work with uncomfortable, and if they laugh, it’s probably because they’re not sure what else to do. Everyone wants to get along with her co-workers, after all; no one wants to be perceived as harsh or humorless. Try fostering camaraderie in the office without sexual innuendo. Ask about women’s families, pets, movie recommendations, upcoming vacations, holiday plans, etc. Though the rules are less strict outside the workplace, err on the side of caution, and don’t linger after paying a compliment as if you expect something in return.

One final word to the wise: In any context, if you preface a remark with “Don’t take this the wrong way,” it will most likely be taken the wrong way.

Dear Annie:

The letter from “Geographically Challenged” struck a chord with me. He mentions that he and his wife are expecting a baby. That may be the source of his wife’s problem. When I was pregnant, the first symptom was a panic attack. During the entire pregnancy, the main side effects were panic attacks and depression, though I was always physically healthy. I was even homesick at times and missed my parents — the only time in my life I was homesick. (I lived only 100 miles from them.) Pregnancy itself creates all kinds of hormonal changes. Perhaps her doctor can help her handle these episodes with the hope/expectation she will feel better once her baby is in her arms.

If this is the source of her condition, the best help her husband can give her is unconditional love, support and patience. — Empathetic

Dear Empathetic:

You make a great point. I’ve passed your letter along to “Geographically Challenged,” and I’d like to encourage any women, pregnant or not, who are experiencing severe changes in mood to talk to their doctors.

Dear Annie:

My husband and I have just retired, and I’m beginning to worry about our personality differences.

We live in the same town as our children and grandchildren. I love to help out with baby-sitting and carpooling. I love my children and grandchildren and enjoy being a part of their lives. I have friends who like to meet for lunch and club meetings, and I volunteer some, too. In short, I keep busy.

My husband doesn’t have anything much to do or many friends. And he doesn’t seem as into being a grandparent as I am. He never misses the grandkids when we are away traveling. He’s grumpy.

I think that being a grandparent is an important part of grandchildren’s lives. Plus it’s such a blessing to be with them. I want them to know we love them and care about them.

I have hinted at all of these feelings a thousand times to my husband, but he just doesn’t get it. I’m losing hope. The grandkids may look back one day and remember his lack of affection and interest. Is there anything I can do? — Personality Problems

Dear Personality Problems:

One plainspoken truth is worth a thousand hints. Talk to your husband about how you’re feeling. Explain to him why you love to spend time with the grandchildren and that you want to be a team with him, and say it’s hard to be a team unless you both commit. You can start small, asking him to pick one day a week when together you will focus on the grandchildren for some part of the day. Encourage his participation by focusing on what he does do instead of what he doesn’t.

Dear Annie:

“Susannah” and I have been friends on and off for over 30 years. She lives in a town that is approximately 75 miles from where I live. The problem is I am tired of being the one who keeps in touch. The most recent time I complained via e-mail about that, she admitted that she had been “negligent,” and I agreed. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard from her in two months. Should I continue to keep the friendship going or let it die? — Friendship Is a Two-Way Street

Dear Friendship Is a Two-Way Street:

Your signature says it all:

Friendship is a two-way street, and your lane is looking worse for wear. Allow some distance to grow between you and her and see what she does to traverse it. If six months or a year from now she contacts you, let your heart tell you whether it wants to open up to her. Don’t ignore her out of pride or as a punishment. Thirty years of friendship can’t be cast aside hastily.

Dear Annie:

My husband and I have both been married before, and our children are from our first marriages. My husband’s daughter lives close by, and she brings her kids to our home often, which we all enjoy. The problem is that every time they show up — even when they know we are preparing a meal for them, even prior to big holiday meals — they get out of their car with empty bags and partially consumed beverages from a popular fast-food chain.

This drives me insane! My husband just shrugs and says that there’s a reason they are all overweight and that nothing we say or do will change their behavior. When his daughter asked me not to always make a dessert to accompany our otherwise healthful meals because she was worried about “how big the kids are getting,” I had a heart-to-heart with her about how awful the fast food is for the kids. Her reply was that she just can’t say “no” to her kids and is just too tired to cook. I told her that is why we are trying to help by making meals for them. No change. What now? — Fed Up in Florida

Dear Fed Up:

It’s considerate of you to cook healthful meals for your family, and it was thoughtful of you to have a heart-to-heart with your daughter-in-law about this sensitive issue. Your husband might consider periodically encouraging her to stay strong in teaching her children better eating habits, reminding her that she’s the boss — and that her children in fact need her to be the boss.

But in the end, there’s nothing you can do to force her to stop buying fast food. The only person you can control is yourself. The sooner you accept this the sooner you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the time with your family.

Dear Annie:

I must disagree with your assessment that “no problem” means the same thing as “you’re welcome.” The phrase “no problem” carries with it the implication that if the task had created a “problem” for the server (or whoever uttered it), perhaps she might not have carried it out so nicely — or at all.

“You’re welcome,” on the other hand, has a much more gracious implication:

that the person would have done this task for you no matter the cost to herself.

Words matter, and there is no use pretending that they don’t carry a lot of freight. Better to use them thoughtfully. — English Major

Dear English Major:

I see no evidence that “no problem” carries that implication, but I love a good linguistic debate, so I’m printing your letter — followed by a different viewpoint.

Dear Annie:

“Out of Touch” was annoyed that a popular response to “thank you” is “no problem.” My husband and I were annoyed by that also, until I realized that the traditional replies in French are “jet’en prie,” which is somewhat equivalent to “don’t worry about it,” and “de rien,” “of nothing.” In Spanish, “de nada” also means “it was nothing.” So maybe it’s not a millennial thing. Maybe it’s cultural, global stuff and millennials are really sophisticated! OK, I went too far with that. — Ann-Marie

Dear Ann-Marie:

Merci beaucoup for the language lesson.